The DuPage County Health Department is reviewing how it communicates with the public after failing to report last week two cases of Legionnaires' disease.
A spokesman said test results confirmed Nov. 8 the presence of the potentially deadly illness in two adult men who used a hot tub at LA Fitness in Naperville. Officials issued no public alerts but confirmed the findings with news agencies starting late Wednesday.
"It's not health department policy (to automatically issue public notices)," spokesman Jason Gerwig said Thursday, as news reports began to appear. "It's something we'll probably look at moving forward."
Gerwig said the health department traced the cases on Oct. 23 to a hot tub at the LA Fitness on Freedom Drive on Naperville's far north side. The tub was immediately shut down for testing to determine whether it actually was the source.
Those tests yielded positive results, while tests of showers and the pool at the fitness club came back negative. Meanwhile, the facility remained open.
Gerwig said the men who contracted Legionnaires' are in stable condition. He said he could not identify their ages or hometowns because of medical privacy rules. No other cases have been reported.
"The important thing is that people know we haven't seen increased numbers," Gerwig said. "That's a testament to getting in there early and taking action. Our first concern was the health of the people at LA Fitness."
Gerwig said officials didn't make any reports to the public in October because they were still doing tests and didn't want to cause an unnecessary health scare.
"By finding the source and isolating it as quickly as we did, you negate this threat for potential exposure to anybody else," he said. "It's a positive that we were able to get in there, get that hot tub drained, get the testing results sent in and get them back. We identified it, we isolated it, and it posed no threat to anybody at the facility."
A message left for a manager at LA Fitness was not immediately returned.
Outside the facility Thursday, several members expressed frustration but said they would continue to visit.
"They should have at least said something, but they didn't," said Sue Bernstein, a member for roughly five years. "It's not going to affect me going."
Kevin Johnson, another member, said he often uses the hot tub for his back and had wondered why it was closed down last month.
"I brought it up several times in the past couple of weeks ... and they never informed me there was a problem such as that," he said. "They didn't inform anybody. It aggravates me, but it doesn't keep me from coming back."
While cases of Legionnaires' disease are rare, Gerwig said, the bacteria that cause it are common.
"It's everywhere in the environment," he said. "It's just a matter of where you get it and what the cause is. There also could be underlying conditions to make one more susceptible than another."
Dr. David Waitley, an infectious disease specialist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, called the noncontagious disease a "more serious case of pneumonia often requiring hospitalization."
"It's an amazing bacteria with an affinity for water and vapor, and it can grow anywhere it collects, even without carbon," Waitley said. "But it's a point source outbreak, not contagious person to person, so we don't need to isolate those patients."
The incubation period for the disease is three to seven days, so Waitley said most people, if they were to get it, would have shown symptoms by now since the hot tub was closed on Oct. 23 but warned it's not an absolute time frame.
"If someone was in that tub around that time period and has begun to show symptoms or respiratory issues, they should definitely see their doctor and remind them about this case," he said. Symptoms, he said, tend to be fever and viral-like symptoms.
"You're going to be achy and have a sore throat, but it's not going to be like a cold or sneezing," Waitley said. "The patient will feel like they have the flu and be extremely achy. And rather than getting better, they'll get worse."
Many patients require hospitalization and oxygen, but less-severe cases can be treated with aggressive antibiotic treatments.
Gerwig said it will be at least a month before the LA Fitness hot tub reopens. It first must undergo a "rigorous cleaning process" and pass two tests, which each take about two weeks, he said.
"It sounds like they're doing everything absolutely right," Waitley said. "The tub and surfaces should be sterilizable, but the process certainly requires special techniques."
Gerwig said LA Fitness is cooperating.
"We worked with them from the onset," he said. "They recognized the importance of shutting down that hot tub and draining it right away."
Legionnaires' was named in 1976 after dozens of people were infected at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia and later died.
Last year, the disease proved fatal for three people who contracted it at the JW Marriott hotel in downtown Chicago, possibly from a lobby fountain. In August, five people died and 39 were sickened after picking up the disease at an Ohio retirement home.